Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Important Correspondence RE INSO

In a message dated 12/06/2003 8:31:46 PM Eastern Standard Time, Nardo writes:

Dear Wafaa'

You had mentioned the need for a certain number of $10 contributions to keep the newsletter going, but I didn't see any information as to whom to make out the check and an address to where to send it. Also, to whom and to where can I send a check for the INSO for supplies?

Regards,
Nardo Poy


Dear Nardo:

Thank you for your interest in subscribing. Please note that thosewho wrote back wanting to subscribe with $10 were only eleven. So, knowing the number is VERY LOW, the December
e-newsletter will be the last. Regarding donations for the INSO, the Institute of Near Eastern & African Studies (INEAS) used to collect thesedonations to take to Baghdad and it just delivered the donations in November. However, after realizing that the INSO has been getting generous support from around the world and has been using the media to exaggerate its list of needs and hide the truthabout the worldwide support they are getting and that its members allowed themselves to be used by the American government/military turning this musical and cultural project into mere political campaign and propaganda, INEAS withdrew its project to aid the INSO.

Wafaa' Al-Natheema, founder of INEAS, organizer of the women's delegation to go to Baghdad to deliver the donations (between November 12 and 15) and the list moderator of theINSO bimonthly e-newsletter (for over two years), felt unappreciated at all while in Baghdad. Recently, the director of the Orchestra, Hisham Sharaf, had told the NY Times reporter that the INSO e-newsletter is unofficial to discredit over two years of work (of researching, writing, corresponding and editing) done by Wafaa' and other members of the team. In fact the NY Times reporter received two emails from INEAS indicating to her that Wafaa' was not the only writer/editor and that all names of the writing/editing team should be acknowledged if the INSO e-newsletter was mentioned, yet the article indicated that the newsletter is unofficial and that Wafaa' (without mentioning others) edits it, thanks to the INSO's director.

Of course neither Wafaa' nor any of the writing/editingteam had considered these e-newsletters to be official. Thes enewsletters began in October 2001 during the old regime, and had no connection with nor took permission of the old regime or the new appointed council/Ministry of Culture ! It was the fruit of nothing, but music lovers such as Wafaa' and former INSO musicians (plus one musician/composer who is still part of the INSO). So we were astonished by the mean question (if asked by the reporter) and by even more damaging response given by the INSO's director! This is aside from the fact that the article failed to disclose the larger (than Muscians for Harmony's) donation amount that INEAS (and Wafaa') has raised for the orchestra!!

There are more truly needy musicians/artists in Iraq than those affiliated with the INSO if you or your organization would like to donate to their cause. INEAS will not deal with or support the Iraqi Symphony Orchestra anymore. A public announcement will be sent worldwide on the subject matter within a week (from INEAS@aol.com).

Wafaa' and INEAS have lost nearly $2000 campaigning to help the INSO. None of Wafaa's expenses for the trip to Baghdad were funded. The above figure excludes the long distance calls that Wafaa' have encountered since 2001 communicating with INSO musicians or pertaining to calls related to the INSO.

Below is yesterday's NY Times' article mentioning about Wafaa' and the e-newsletter.

Thank you for your interest in helping,

Cordially,
May Roberts
On Behalf of Wafaa' Al-Natheema
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This Battle of the Bands Is Peaceable

By BARBARA JEPSON
Published: December 7, 2003

Soon after the Arab press reported that the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington would play alongside each other at the Kennedy Center, Hisham Sharaf, the director of the Iraqi orchestra, was shot at as he drove down a highway near his home in Baghdad. A bullet penetrated his windshield, but missed him.
"I don't know who or why," Mr. Sharaf said recently from Baghdad. "I think maybe it's because of the concert. On Al Jazeera, they say they are surprised that the orchestra goes to Washington at this time. We don't have political reasons. Maybe the American side thinks about that, but we go to play music, to see the American people and to show we have culture. Some people think we have only desert and camels.

"The concert, a free, hour long event on Tuesday evening, mixes European classics with recent and traditional music by Iraqi composers. Leonard Slatkin, the music director of the National Symphony, shares the podium with Mohammed Amin Ezzat, the conductor of the Iraqi National Symphony."We're trying to find a way to use music to combat what was a tragic circumstance," Mr. Slatkin said from Washington, "no matter what side of the Iraqi argument you come down on." But political overtones have shadowed the venture. It is the first of several initiatives by the State Department to restore cultural exchange between Iraq and the United States after nearly 13 years of United Nations sanctions. Perhaps inevitably, some argue that the Iraqi orchestra is being used. "I'm furious that our government is trying to put a happy face on the extinguishment of the cradle of civilization," said Patrick Dillon, an independent filmmaker who shot in Baghdad before and after the American-led assault and is a vocal critic of the war effort.

Michael Kaiser, the president of the Kennedy Center and a cultural ambassador for the State Department's CultureConnect program, said from Washington that the idea for the invitation was entirely his."It's critical to give visibility not just to the Iraqi National Symphony but to all the arts in Iraq," Mr. Kaiser said. "I also believe the arts can play a role in healing and a role in educating us about Iraq, and the sooner the better in both cases."The Kennedy Center is covering the cost of the National Symphony's appearance and the use of the hall, and the State Department is paying transportation and lodging expenses for the 60-member Iraqi orchestra, Mr. Kaiser said. But in his view, the event has no more political significance than the restoration of the State Department's Fulbright scholarship program in Iraq. To muddy the waters further, two assistants to L. Paul Bremer III, the top American civilian administrator in Iraq, play with the understaffed Iraqi orchestra as substitutes. Asked how he felt about their participation, Mr. Sharaf, the orchestra's director, said: "The problem every time is between the governments, not musicians. We speak the same language do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, do."The political connection has proved advantageous for the orchestra. One assistant, who started a corporate donor program for the Coalition Provisional Authority, has helped solicit donations to the orchestra. Yamaha responded by providing 30 new brass and woodwind instruments, and Steinway & Sons will lend a grand piano. Better string instruments are still needed.As a result of Mr. Bremer's inquiries, the Major Orchestra Library Association, an American-based international service organization, has also become involved. It has begun to send more than 350 scores to lay the groundwork for a national repository available to all Iraqi musical organizations.

Other institutions are assisting the School of Music and Ballet in Baghdad, where many orchestra members teach.The school was looted and trashed after Mr. Hussein's ouster. Desks were broken, pianos ruined and other instruments damaged or stolen. Orchestra members say the vandals were angry, impoverished individuals who viewed the state-supported school as a government entity. The school was reopened on a limited basis, but when the Kennedy Center concert was announced, more instruments were attacked. "There is an element in Iraq that is not happy that Iraqis are playing Western music or teaching Western music to their children," said Allegra Klein, a violinist. She founded a group called Musicians for Harmony, in New York, which raised $1,000 for the Iraqi orchestra at a benefit concert. Hers is only one of several such efforts. Operation Harmony, a project conceived by the National Endowment for the Arts, appealed to the classical music community for instruments, musical accessories and cash to help Iraqi music students. It also appealed to the Pentagon about the logistics of airlifting the donated items, however, and that raised a few hackles. "You have a government agency related to the military involved in the music scene, which makes it very political," said Wafaa Al-Natheema, an educator and founder of the nonprofit Institute for Near Eastern and African Studies in Cambridge, Mass. Ms. Al-Natheema hopes to arrange future tours for the orchestra and helps edit an unofficial newsletter on its activities. "If the U.S. government really wanted to help," she said, "they could use a nongovernmental agency, a charitable institution like the institute or the U.N." Such extramusical baggage has not dimmed the orchestra's enthusiasm for the Kennedy Center concert. "It's the first dream we get," Majid Alghazali, the principal second violinist, wrote in an e-mail. Mr. Ezzat, the conductor, who fled Iraq for Sweden in 2002 after being asked to compose a score for a novel written by Saddam Hussein (as he had done once before), returned last fall. "They told me the orchestra has more future hope, and I came back to continue on, to make this hope for us," he said from Baghdad. "In the past, our orchestra was not free. Now we are free. We make our future."Part of the hope involves increasing the orchestra's size, wages and artistic caliber. In contrast, say, to Iraqi playwrights, who typically required approval of their scripts and casts to win funds from the Hussein government, the orchestra mostly suffered from benign neglect. Founded in 1959, it once had a German conductor and an international membership. During the 1970's and 80's, it had more than 70 musicians and occasionally toured Russia, Algeria, Lebanon and Jordan. Guest artists and teachers regularly visited Baghdad.But its budget diminished over the years. Then as now, most members required a supplementary job, like teaching, driving a taxi or selling coal.In 1994, when Mr. Alghazali joined the orchestra, his salary was about $150 per month. By 2002, musicians were earning $10 to $20 per month. Now Iraq's Ministry of Culture pays them $120 per month. Mr. Alghazali reports that orchestras in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon pay about $500 per month. He believes that the Iraqi orchestra will ultimately need to match that figure to attract and retain the best players. There is talk of starting a musicians' union.

THE history of the Iraqi National Symphony is in some ways a microcosm of life in this war-torn country during the last five decades. It was disbanded in 1966 by a government official who is said to have disliked Western classical music. From 1968 to 1971, when the orchestra was allowed to resume public performance, members rehearsed surreptitiously at the home of a cellist, Munther Jamil Hafidh, who taught many of the players at the School of Music and Ballet. And in 1985, during the eight-year war with Iran, two children of the assistant conductor, Abdul Razzak Ibraheem Mahdi, were killed when his house was hit by an Iranian missile.Recent skirmishes have also taken a toll. Rasheed Concert Hall, one of the orchestra's performing spaces, was bombed during the air campaign in the spring. (The orchestra now plays in a spacious air-conditioned hall at the Palace of Conferences.) The second floor of Mr. Sharaf's house was accidentally shelled by American troops during a firefight. His mother was injured, and he was hit by shrapnel in a finger. Omar Hassan Alshikh, who joined the orchestra's cello section in 1991 and began working for the United Nations last April, was seriously injured in the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad in August. He now lives in Amman, Jordan, where he was taken for medical treatment. The United Nations sanctions imposed in 1990, after Iraq invaded Kuwait, and maintained after the gulf war had predictably adverse effects on musical life. Although the Iraqi orchestra played 140 concerts after Mr. Ezzat became conductor, in 1989, it did so under increasing deprivation. The sanctions made it hard to obtain replacement scores, strings, valves and other essential equipment.In addition, talented performers left Iraq for Jordan or Europe.

The orchestra's present ranks include Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Muslims and Assyrian Christians. They also include three women.In June, the orchestra gave its first concert after the war. About 45 musicians played "My Nation," an anthem predating Mr. Hussein's rule. According to press reports, audience members wept as they sang. Since that event, rebroadcast three times on Iraqi television, the orchestra has emerged as a symbol of courage and perseverance through suffering.Meanwhile, another symbol of hope for greater cultural understanding stands at the School of Music and Ballet. Early media reports after the war lamented the destruction of a keethara: an unusual piano with a dual keyboard, one tuned to Western scales, the other to Eastern quarter-tones. Actually, the keethara is intact, damaged but reparable. It will be far more difficult to heal the wounds of the past and sort out the political challenges of the present."Before, if you were not near the government and you did not talk badly about the government, you were safe," Mr. Sharaf said. "Now we can talk freely, but we don't know who is the enemy and who likes or doesn't like this music. But we hope and I think all the Iraqi people think that the future is better."

Barbara Jepson writes regularly about music for The Wall Street Journal.